Magazine article The Spectator

Moral Maze

Magazine article The Spectator

Moral Maze

Article excerpt

L'Enfant (The Child) 12A, selected cinemas The Proposition 18, selected cinemas Who is 'The Child' of the title? Is it Jimmy, the baby newly born to Sonia and Bruno? Or is it Bruno? Bruno the delinquent, who laughs long and hard at a fart joke, kills time splashing water with a metal rod, or jumps up and down in a puddle while waiting to set up the exchange of his baby for cash. Yes, that's right, he exchanges his baby for cash.

L'Enfant takes a look at a situation that, while not exactly everyday, is probably more commonplace than we'd like to imagine. A girl, Sonia, comes out of hospital after having had a baby boy. She carries him home to find that her boyfriend, the baby's father, has sublet her apartment.

She has nowhere to go, no money, no battery in her phone. She jumps on the back of a passing scooter, clutching Jimmy, and goes looking for her boyfriend Bruno.

Bruno's existence is entirely hand-tomouth. He scorns the idea of a job ('only f***ers work') and has instead a 'gang' of two thieving schoolboys. He sells on what they steal, and gives them a percentage of his takings. The rent money he has collected for Sonia's apartment has gone on a new leather jacket. The money he makes on the sale of a video camera he spends on hiring a convertible for the afternoon. He has no home, sleeping in a shack under a motorway and keeping his clothes in a bit of nearby rusty machinery.

Sonia initially maintains a pathetic optimism. She tries to interest Bruno in Jimmy, attempting to make him take his son in his arms, then later sending father and baby off together for a walk. Bruno sees the advantage of begging with a pram, and musters enough spare change for a pack of cigarettes. Then, with much the same on-the-spot approach, he makes a couple of phone calls and sets up a deal to sell his baby. He cannot understand why Sonia is so distraught. 'We can have another, ' he tells her. His amoralism makes him a strange kind of innocent.

The Dardenne brothers won the Palme d'Or at Cannes with their previous film, Le Fils, and won again last year with L'Enfant.

They tell both stories with absolute simplicity: handheld camera, no music and minimal dialogue. Their approach has the effect of making this nightmare appallingly real. We are just behind Bruno's shoulder, watching, as he creates his pitiful downfall.

One can all too easily imagine the wailing and gnashing of teeth that would accompany this subject in the hands of other filmmakers. …

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